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Bike/Walk Central Florida Responds to Sentinel Series

Sentinel editorial introduces Best Foot Forward with column by Linda Chapin, which details the tremendous efforts of BFF in the community, and a column by Rick Geller, which highlights engineering recommendations to improve pedestrian safety in the area.

The Front Burner: Stanching blood in area’s streets

July 26, 2013

The statistics are staggering: In the past six years, 333 pedestrians have been killed by vehicles on Central Florida’s streets. This region has the highest pedestrian crash and death rates in the country, as vividly reported in a recent Sentinel series, “Blood in the Streets.”

The victims include not only those killed or maimed, but also their families, and even the motorists who weren’t at fault when their cars struck people. Most of the deaths and injuries stem from misjudgment or carelessness by pedestrians.

The human toll is devastating. The mayhem damages the region’s quality of life for all of its residents, and could make Central Florida less attractive to new businesses and to the tourists who drive the local economy.

One area organization, Bike/Walk Central Florida, launched a broad-based initiative last year to improve pedestrian safety. It’s detailed in one of today’s Front Burner columns by its leader, former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin. The effort already has measured gains in drivers yielding to those on foot, but Chapin acknowledges there is more to be done.

Some of the progress may take years to achieve. As today’s other Front Burner columnist, Rick Geller, points out, most communities in this region were designed with cars, not walkers, in mind. Existing roads may need to be retrofitted, and future communities will need to be better planned for pedestrian safety.

Help could be coming from Tallahassee. State Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad and lawmakers are now vowing to take action.

Read more about it

•More information about Bike/Walk Central Florida and its Best Foot Forward initiative is at bikewalkcentralflorida.org.

•For statistics on pedestrian safety in Central Florida, go to metroplanorlando.com, click on media, then on fact sheets.

•The “Blood in the Streets” series is available online at orlandosentinel.com/pedestrians.


The Front Burner: To tackle problem, group put ‘Best Foot Forward’

By Linda Chapin Guest columnist

July 26, 2013

One day recently, a pedestrian darted out from between parked cars as I was driving to the store. Fortunately, I had slowed for an upcoming turn and was able to slam on the brakes, but the close call left me shaking. Later in the day, I watched a motorist blow through a designated crosswalk even though a woman holding a small child by the hand had stepped off the curb.

The Sentinel series “Blood in the Streets” has added impetus to a serious issue our community has virtually ignored for a decade. That’s how long metro Orlando has been labeled as one of the “most dangerous in America” for pedestrians. Over the past 10 years, 562 have died. Two people are injured every day. They are victims of a breakdown in pedestrian and vehicle safety that plagues cities and towns across the region.

I serve on the board of a nonprofit organization, Bike/Walk Central Florida, whose mission is to support the use of recreational trails and improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. Like the Sentinel series, we asked ourselves: Why such citizen apathy when it’s our neighbors who are the victims of risky motorist and pedestrian behavior? Why have we been willing to overlook the damage to our prized reputation as the most visitor-friendly city in the world?

The fact that there is plenty of blame to go around does not mitigate the responsibility we have, as individuals and as a community, to tackle this problem. That is why Bike/Walk Central Florida decided to do something about it and launched an effort called “Best Foot Forward” with two objectives: to increase driver yield rates to 70 percent in designated crosswalks, and to reduce injuries and deaths by 50 percent over the next five years.

We are a handful of volunteers, so we naturally took this effort to our community leaders, and we’ve been joined by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orlando Police Chief Paul Rooney, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, MetroPlan Orlando, the Florida Department of Transportation, Orange County Public Schools, Lynx and the Winter Park Health Foundation. Together, they are providing the authority and the funding needed to train law-enforcement officers, measure progress, provide public-service messages and educate our kids to be careful and be safe.

Best Foot Forward methods are proven. Using the “Triple E” approach of education, engineering and enforcement, cities like St. Petersburg and Gainesville have seen positive effects, as motorists and pedestrians adopt new mindsets and new habits.

Look around. Have you noticed new in-street signage in crosswalks? This reminds drivers that Florida law mandates that they come to a full stop when a pedestrian wants to walk across the street. Have you observed any of the 200 crosswalk enforcement actions conducted by local law enforcement? Has a child reminded you to use a crosswalk, a safe walking lesson the child learned in school? These are just a few examples of our collective progress.

When Best Foot Forward launched, only 12 percent of drivers yielded to pedestrians in crosswalks on streets posted at 35 mph and less. A year later, that number is 48 percent. It’s a start, and we count on our leaders and our coalition to continue to drive this effort. There’s a lot more work to do.

I can remember the sleepy, pre-Disney Orlando, when our streets were slower, and safer. There are many reasons why we would not want to go back to those times. But in the face of tragic accidents, we must all commit to monitor our own choices, as motorists and pedestrians. We must ask our elected leaders and law-enforcement officers to take the appropriate actions to enforce more-responsible behavior on the part of the public. We must take every step we can to keep our children safe.

Some things simply cannot be ignored.

Linda Chapin is a former Orange County mayor and a board member of Bike/Walk Central Florida.


The Front Burner: For greater safety, design roads to fit environment

By Rick Geller Guest columnist

July 26, 2013

Florida taxpayers spend more than $3.6 billion annually on our road system; yet the Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville metro areas rank as the nation’s most dangerous for our most vulnerable road user — the pedestrian. To make our roads safer, we must understand how they became so hazardous.

Those areas share the same Florida Department of Transportation road-design standards, which for decades prioritized motorist speed. Central Florida has seen firsthand that, as roads become faster and wider, more walkers and bicyclists die in collisions with motor vehicles.

How did our roads get so wide? First, FDOT standards and local laws outlawed urban street grids, instead creating suburban networks of cul-de-sacs, collector roads and arterial highways. By concentrating motorists onto a small number of routes, congestion became inevitable.

Another set of laws required roads to have capacity to handle traffic expected from new development. Two-lane streets became four-lane divided highways, expanding to six lanes. After each road widening, better flowing lanes induced motorists, who previously avoided the road at peak hours, to change their travel habits. Congestion returned, but the thoroughfares were wider and more perilous than ever.

Land-use decisions by local officials made matters worse. Consider the unintended consequences of an apartment complex’s location. On Lee Road, apartment dwellers — some in wheelchairs — reach a Lynx bus stop by crossing lanes as wide as an interstate highway, dodging cars at 45 mph. The nearest marked crosswalk and traffic light are almost a half-mile away.

Pedestrian danger also results from treating urban areas as if they are suburban. An FDOT district secretary rejected slower design speeds and marked pedestrian crossings on Brickell Avenue, in downtown Miami, because, “A state highway is not a residential street.” Never mind the thousands of condominiums towering overhead.

Let’s instead design roads to fit their environment, with different standards for rural, suburban and urban areas.

A good example is Edgewater Drive in College Park. Orlando sensibly viewed Edgewater as an urban street instead of a suburban highway. A “road diet” eliminated two lanes. Motorists slowed, but rush-hour travel time increased by less than a minute — a small price for reducing serious injuries to zero. Because Edgewater Drive became more pleasant for walking, economic redevelopment boomed.

Cities and counties should require new development to use gridded street networks, like those in the Winter Garden and Winter Park historic districts. Multiple routes disperse motorist congestion. Safe walking environments can reduce motorist traffic 20 percent to 25 percent.

Cities and counties should make the New Urbanism, which gave us Baldwin Park, our default land-development pattern using FDOT’s new “Traditional Neighborhood Development” standards for narrower, slower streets. FDOT should apply the standards to its own roads where appropriate.

Let’s make better land-use decisions. Most of us can agree that schools belong in walkable communities. Yet Orange County Public Schools officials want to locate Horizon West’s new high school on a highway in a rural settlement. If approved by county commissioners, teens without cars will cross six lanes of highway traffic on foot and bicycle — a casualty waiting to happen.

Instead of widening roads — and increasing wait times at red lights — let’s convert intersections into slow-speed roundabouts, like those in the town of Windermere. Roundabouts can eliminate mile-long backups and, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, reduce injuries by 76 percent and fatalities by more than 90 percent. New FDOT standards wisely designate roundabouts a “preferred option.”

Road design, more than any other factor, determines how fast or slow we drive. Engineering slower, urban thoroughfares can vastly improve pedestrian safety. The old mindset that streets must become highways has proved itself deadly folly.

Rick Geller, a partner with Fishback Dominick in Winter Park, teaches law in the Rollins College Master of Planning in Civic Urbanism program.

View the original stories at the Orlando Sentinel